The Major Differences Between Economy, Premium Economy, and Economy Plus — and What's Right for You
The decisions that come with flying can be fairly overwhelming: Do you want to book an economy ticket and bank on an upgrade, thanks to your frequent-flier status? Would you prefer to cut costs and opt for basic economy, even if that means compromising on what you can pack in a carry-on suitcase? For starters, understanding the terminology around different seating levels can help you make an informed decision about which ticket to book. Seating classifications that come before first and business class run the gamut, from basic economy to premium economy. But the two options preceding business class — premium economy and economy plus — are often the hardest for travelers to distinguish. Here, we hone in on the differences between premium economy, economy plus, and economy. We've not only included what the price differential looks like, but also which airlines offer these seating classifications and when it's worth the price.
What is premium economy?
Let's start from the top, shall we? Premium economy fits between coach and business class, both price-wise and in terms of placement on the aircraft. A seat in premium economy — directly between the main and business class cabins — is measurably more expensive than an economy ticket — often double the price. But according to Skyscanner, it's still 65% less expensive than business class. Skyscanner also reports that premium economy offers, on average, five to seven inches more legroom than economy, typically with "wider seats and more space to recline."
It isn't just the seats and overall space that's more, well, premium than an economy ticket. It's the amenities, too — premium economy provides different meal offerings than the main class cabin, amenity kits, and priority boarding. Those flying in premium economy often won't have to pay fees on their checked baggage, and they accrue airline miles at a different rate than on a coach ticket.
American Airlines offers premium economy, as does Air Canada, and Singapore Airlines, among others. Other airlines offer their own take on premium economy, offering similar levels of amenities, but with a different name. Delta's premium economy class, for example, is called Premium Select (available only on select international flights). United's is called Premium Plus, Virgin Atlantic has Premium, and on British Airways, it's World Traveller Plus.
What is economy plus?
So, if premium economy is the love child of business class and economy, where does that put economy plus? And, more importantly, is it better or worse? Let's cut to the chase: Economy plus is not as luxurious as premium economy, though it is more affordable. Diverging from the cabin separation premium economy offers, economy plus is part of the main class cabin. While you're still sitting in the coach cabin with an economy plus ticket, you do have a better seat — there's more legroom, and on some airlines, the seats are actually more plush, wider, or newer than the rest of coach. Beyond that, you'll be at the front of the main cabin and typically benefit from priority boarding and potentially a better beverage or meal service (depending on the airline).
Much like the world of premium economy, many airlines offer an economy plus-type ticket, but call it something else. On Delta, they have Comfort+ (you'll get the same amenity kits as in first class), JetBlue has Even More Space (guaranteeing seven additional inches of legroom), and American Airlines offers Main Cabin Extra (the airline says upgrades start at $20). On United, it's called economy plus, and you can even get a subscription.
What is the cost and upgrade potential for premium economy and economy plus?
So, is premium economy or economy plus worth the price bump? It depends on the length of your flight and personal preference. For a cross-country flight (JFK to LAX, for example), you'll usually pay an additional $100 to $300 for an economy plus-type ticket on Delta or JetBlue. For a premium economy ticket, you'll shell out at least $300 more than a regular coach ticket, if not more. (Paying double the price of an economy ticket for premium economy, especially when flying abroad, is fairly standard.)
That being said, if you have any sort of airline status (for example, you earn the lowest status tier on Delta, Silver Medallion, with 45,000 qualified miles and $6,000 of qualified flight spending), you might unlock upgrades that could get you into an economy plus or premium economy seat at no charge. Again, to use the Delta Silver Medallion example, that status makes you eligible for complimentary upgrades to Comfort+ and first class on international flights, space permitting. Meanwhile, with American's lowest status tier (Gold), you can qualify for an upgrade from the main cabin to the "next class of service," either automatically (space permitting) or with a 500-mile upgrade voucher.
Where does economy into this?
While an economy ticket doesn't get you an upgrade from coach, understanding what the class offers should still factor into your seating decision. Economy is the standard, main cabin fare. Whether or not you get meal service depends entirely on the airline and your exact flight. Unless you have a preferred credit card or status with your airline of choice, you are generally permitted one carry-on plus a personal item, but you'll have to pay for checked bags. You will get standard seating with about 30 to 31 inches of legroom, though it varies by airline and aircraft.